Do We Need Persecution Here?

Yesterday a colleague of mine sent me this link: Ethiopia Imprisons Christian Accused of Defacing Quran. It is a report about a believer in Ethiopia who had the courage to proclaim Yesus Getano — “Jesus is Lord!” His “crime” is that he refused to hide the light of the Gospel under a bushel.

I find myself overwhelmed by the significance of this event. We in America are so often wrong about our Christian suppositions. Joseph and Mary were sure that Jesus was traveling to Nazareth with them when He was back in Jerusalem in the temple. Mary thought Jesus was a gardener. Paul once knew Christ according to the flesh. How gullible we are.

Being willing to declare “Jesus is Lord!” and being willing even to die for Him runs so contrary to the world of “New Testament scholarship” in which I live and move and have my being. I am (and have always been)  a lover of books, of writing, of teaching, of scholarship. Wherever I am, I love to read and learn. I enjoy listening to the reports from ETS and SBL and discussing the latest controversies in the field of religious studies.

I am comfortable.

Scholarship validates my need to be affirmed in my calling. And then I read a news story like the one I linked to above and God taps me on the shoulder and drops me to my knees. A man properly loves himself only when he sees himself as God sees him — nothing but a lost sinner, bought with a great price, the personal property of the Lord whom he is called to follow and serve sacrificially. He is not called to debate the doctrine of justification. He is called to get right with God by confession and repentance. Then he is called to leave the 99 and search for the lost sheep of the world. He must be willing to risk all — even his reputation in the eyes of the world — to proclaim with life and lip, “Jesus is Lord!”

Jesus was accused of being out of His mind. So was Paul, the greatest New Testament scholar who ever lived. It is amazing to me how we so-called “New Testament experts” can study and teach the New Testament but somehow manage to keep it in one compartment of our lives while we carry on the daily affairs of life in another. As Christian scholars and bloggers it is not our calling to denounce organized iniquity. It is to be the kind of committed Christians who have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather expose them by the contrast of our lives. We are so used to measuring everything by the yardstick of popularity that we make our dedication to scholarship the road to advancement and recognition. We have sought, like James and John, prominent places in the kingdom when Jesus is offering suffering instead of seats. I’ve said it before: If we really wanted to make an impact at ETS, we would have asked Schreiner and Thielman and Wright to serve for a day together in a soup kitchen in Atlanta’s inner city, sharing with lost souls the Gospel of this Jesus whom we evangelicals claim to understand so well intellectually.

I am suspicious of any form of Christianity that does not arouse bitter hostility from the world. My brother in Ethiopia is in prison today not because he broke any law (freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Ethiopian constitution) but because he was willing to follow in the steps of his Lord, who refused the applause of the world. Christ does not want our patronage. He must have submission.

Funny how the imprisonment of a Christian brother in Ethiopia makes me so grateful. Grateful to know that in some parts of the world “the cost of discipleship” is more than a book title. Grateful for the reminder that the Christian life is not a set of dogmas but a revolution. Being persecuted will not stop the Gospel. Even in prison, Jesus is Lord.

I’m with Jesus on this one. Let the dead bury their dead. Sell out or get out. This poor world of New Testament studies to which I belong talks haughtily, like Pilate, as though Jesus stood at its mercy. We avoid the battle of truth under the false guise that we are explorers of the truth — on a “quest” to discover the historical Jesus. But there is no doubt about who this Christ is. Yesus Getano. Jesus is Lord! In parts of Ethiopia, those are fighting words. Utter them and you may die.

The tragedy of our generation is that we are failing to get to the bottom of our troubles. Spreading Aspercream on cancer is idiotic. The professing church in America — and this includes the academic guild that I know and love — has become cluttered with hosts of superficial “believers” who have never settled the matter of obedience. They are disciples in name only, their hands on the plow, eagerly looking back.

Perhaps I will start praying for persecution to come to America. Many would fall away but at least it would separate the sheep from the goats.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, and Why Four Gospels?.)